Rethinking Miss Manners: Invitations and formality

I finally got myself a copy of Judith Martin’s Miss Manners’ Guide to a Surprisingly Dignified Wedding, and I devoured that sucker more or less instantaneously. I love her approach to ettiquette: it mostly boils down to making people feel comfortable, and taking care not to offend them. It’s not about rules for the sake of form, and she’s unwavering in rejecting old traditions that make no sense. What I like best is how she applies her general prinicples to modern issues by creating contemporary versions of old forms. Just sometimes, though, she doesn’t get it quite right, like the whole destination wedding thing. Today I’m going to talk about invitations.

The levels of formality in correspondence, according to Miss Manners, go like this:
Third person engraved or calligraphy invitation
First person handwritten letter
Phone call
Word of mouth.

Only Tier 1 is considered formal, Tier 2 is informal, and poor old email is “That most informal of communications”. So if you are sending out wedding invitations, your options are a formal engraved/letterpress/calligraphied invitation in third person, or to handwrite a letter on your supposed personal stationery where you say something like, “Dear Granny, I’d love you to come to our wedding…”

Well, first of all, she needs to get with the program on forms of printing that aren’t engraving or calligraphy (which incidentally, are damn expensive). That’s just not the world we live in. And then secondly, it’s not true that email can’t be formal. I’ve sent and received a billion formal business emails. Roughly, email today fills exactly the same niche that handwritten letters did before internet. It’s how we talk to our friends, it’s how we get business done.

So Miss Manners’ recommendations need to be adjusted down a notch. A handwritten letter is so rare these days, that that stuff is formal. And email is fine for almost anything she would want handwritten.

And as usual, I’m obsessed with the idea that wedding receptions need to reflect more our actual lives and culture, and reflect less our inner fantasy to live inside the world of Pride and Prejudice. Because unless you’re pretty wealthy, it’s not going to be like the Bingleys. And the bridal party will look like they’re at a different event from the guests. That’s a pet peeve.

USA-ian bloggers kind of give a different impression*, but the in the world that I live in, letterpress and calligraphy invitations do not happen even for the big special parties. My Dad is having a biggish 60th birthday bash this weekend – I’m pretty sure he just emailed people. 21st parties generally involve a home-designed, home-printed DIY invitation.

We want to have a beach party reception that maybe includes swimming: NOT FORMAL. So I’m not seeing the need for major *jazz hands* invitations. But, it is our wedding. It’s still very very special. I’m thinking handwritten cards, written in first person in my best cursvive (I’ve been loving this idea since this post on ESB).

And dudes, save-the-dates. Let’s not make that a thing, when it doesn’t need to be. That shit is going to be a group email. Done.

*Americans, seriously, do you guys really give out fancy invitations for birthday parties, or is that just blogdom misleading me? I’d actually love to know.


15 responses to “Rethinking Miss Manners: Invitations and formality

  1. I’m American, and I can’t remember the last time I received a non-email (or evite, or paperless post, or facebook) invite for a party… except for weddings, of course. I’m sure it happens *sometimes,* and maybe in more traditional areas of the country, but overall, I definitely think blogland is fulling a fast one on you!

  2. I love the idea of hand-written invitations as you’re spot on when you say that it is such a rarity that it is now formal. It’s also just such a treat to get something like that in the post, there’s something special about knowing the author penned it especially for you and with you in mind, rather than being on autopilot cutting and pasting and inserting you name on a computer.

  3. If my guests had any manners whatsoever and I thought they’d legitimately appreciate a real snail mail invitation, I’d sure as hell send them real snail mail invitations. But my friends are crap. They barely deign to show up for parties, and if they do, they spend the weeks leading up to the party complaining about mutual friends and going back and forth on transportation (because we live a whole hour away, it’s like “ok, so who’s going to pack the hard tack for the journey?” “not me, if i have to, I won’t go.”

    I made a DUCK for Christmas last year and one person out of 6 rsvps actually showed. That guy’s gonna be a groomsman.

    I hate people.

    Also, I don’t recall ever having sent a paper invitation for any of my fancier parties. I’d love to meet someone who does. Maybe I’d start.

  4. Jenni – thanks for weighing in, that’s good to know. Bloggers are freakin deceptive.

    Maddy – I totally agree with you. After I published this yesterday I got home and found a card in the post, from a friend in the UK. She even wrote it in cursive and everything, and I *loved* it. So it really confirmed for us we’re going to go the card route. Then M and I practiced our cursive – turns out he’s better than me. WTH?

    Roguey – you made duck even? Oh, that sucks. Sorry man. I would have shown up and eaten that duck like nobody’s business. But yeah, email invitations! It’s just the way the world works now. I don’t think you’ve posted about what you’re doing for invitations yet? Have you decided on something?

  5. I’ve posted about it a little, but I won 25 free save the dates from Shutterfly a while back, so we’re ordering those next week. And for invitations, Elisa (Events by Elisa) said she’d be happy to whip up a custom designed batch of invites for about what I’d pay VistaPrint.

    However, I’m not including those f-ing little pre-stamped RSVP cards. People can RSVP through our wedding website or call me. They get 1 card with all the info on it, and – as Miss Manners says – it’s up to them to do the rest.

    I am deeply envious that you got that book before me! It’s on my wishlist, so maybe for Christmas. Love Miss Manners, but agree she can be wrong on a few things. Like registries. She hates them.

    • I got it as an e-book. Not too pricey plus don’t have to wait for it to arrive! It was kind of my engagement present to myself.

      I’m torn on registries, I must say.

      • Oh yeah, also wanted to add, as far as I can tell the latest edition is basically the same material as previous editions. So you might be able to find it at a library?

  6. Pingback: $5500 Wedding budget: Invitations | Frugal Wedding

  7. We’re on a mission to keep things as inexpensive and low-carbon-footprint as possible, but I’m determined to send out paper invitations, because I *love* getting and sending mail the old-fashioned way, and we’re having a formal-ish wedding with an old-fashioned, fancy-party-at-home feel. So I think that paper invitations make sense for us, but – they shouldn’t be such a requirement, especially because postage is getting pretty pricey.

    My fiance is very focused on the carbon footprint aspect though, so we talked it over and we’re going to do paper invitations, but not include RSVP cards – we’ll encourage people to either write back, or RSVP online. And, uh, because I am a crazy person, I’m going to hand-write all the invitations. In 19th century cursive. With a dip pen and inkwell. But! I enjoy doing that sort of crazy thing, and I’ve practiced fancy handwriting, so it works for me. I’m planning to do a folded card with the formal 3rd person invitation on the outside, but then more of a personal note on the inside, with the RSVP info and room for a personal hello.

    I think that the big disconnect between Miss Manners and much of the current real world is that she’s often talking about, or at least focusing on, formality (as with the invitations), but often, people aren’t really trying to have formal events. Even if it’s big and important and lovely and special – it’s often not really formal. And there’s nothing wrong with that! I’m just a sucker for formal things. 🙂

    • Dip pen and inkwell? That sounds amazing!

      And also, yeah, no way am I bothering with RSVP cards either.

      • I’m breaking out ALL of my obscure old-fashionedy skills for the wedding, and endeavoring to acquire some new (old) ones as well. I’m making my own dress, and I’m hoping to get my fiance’s marvelous grandmother to teach me her amazing beading skills so I can do tricky embellishment – she owned a fashion atelier in the 60s and 70s and did the most beauuuutiful work! So yeah, fiddly doing stuff by hand: there will be lots of it! 😀

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